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TB@MIL: Greinke fans 10 over seven strong frames

MILWAUKEE -- Zack Greinke delivered his best start in a Brewers uniform at just the right time.

Greinke struck out 10 and didn't allow a run until the seventh inning to snap Milwaukee's week-long funk, pitching the way to a 5-1 win over the Rays on Tuesday while storms pounded Miller Park.

So what if Miller Park's convertible roof sprung another leak? It kept enough of the rain out to allow Greinke (7-2) to work uninterrupted, and he was sensational over his best seven innings this season. The right-hander limited the Rays to no walks and only four hits -- including John Jaso's RBI single in the seventh that cut the Brewers' lead to 2-1.

The lead would grow to 5-1 in Milwaukee's half of the seventh with clutch hits from Ryan Braun, who returned from an illness, and National League RBI leader Prince Fielder.

The Brewers improved to 8-2 with Greinke on the mound, won for only the third time in their last nine games and reclaimed first place in the NL Central from the Cardinals, who lost at home to the Phillies.

"We talked about it -- we needed Zack to have a big game," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "I think any time you put a challenge to Zack, you're going to see a guy who wants the challenge."

"When he's got it going like that," said outfielder B.J. Upton, who scored the Rays' only run, "he's a tough guy to face."

Was it the best of Greinke's 10 Brewers starts?

"It's up there," Greinke said. "The last six or seven outings have felt good. Better each time."

On Tuesday, unlike some recent outings, the result matched the way he felt. Greinke outdueled Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson (7-6) by striking out 10 batters for the second consecutive start, third time this season and it was the 12th double-digit strikeout performance of his career. He worked with a more-than-usual dose of changeups against the lefty-heavy Tampa Bay lineup, and allowed fewer than two earned runs for the first time in 10 starts. The seven innings matched Greinke's season high.

"All I was thinking about was I felt like I had been pitching pretty good the last month and a half, with not that many results," said Greinke, who started the day with a 5.23 ERA and went to bed at 4.77. "It's kind of nice to get some good results."

He's gotten them a lot at home. Greinke is 5-0 at Miller Park, with 52 strikeouts and only two walks. He has at least one strikeout in 36 of the 38 innings he's pitched at home.

"I feel good everywhere, because this is a good team to pitch with," he said.

The Brewers took advantage of Hellickson's early wildness to claim a first-inning lead. Pitching with a group of friends and family in the stands who had made the trip from Iowa, Hellickson walked three batters in the opening inning before Casey McGehee lifted a sacrifice fly. In the second inning, Yuniesky Betancourt hushed his critics by looking at a first-pitch ball before hitting a solo home run for a 2-0 lead that would stand into the seventh inning.

Betancourt's fourth home run this season was his first since May 20. The Brewers lead the NL with 86 homers.

The teams remained locked at 2-0 until the seventh, when Upton scored to cut the Rays' deficit in half. The Brewers answered in the bottom of the inning with Braun's two-run single and another run-scoring single from Fielder, who leads the NL with 63 RBIs. Both times, just like McGehee's sacrifice fly in the first inning, the Brewers tested left fielder Johnny Damon's weak arm and won.

"Brauny's hit, that changed the ballgame," Roenicke said.

The Brewers will try to win the series on Wednesday behind Greinke's fellow newcomer Shaun Marcum, who will start as scheduled despite exiting his last outing with a left hip-flexor injury. Milwaukee will need both of its prized offseason acquisitions to hold off the Cardinals, the Reds and the rest of the NL Central.

At least that's how Greinke sees it. He does not expect the Cardinals to fold just because Albert Pujols will be sidelined into July with a fractured forearm.

"They're like the Twins to me," Greinke said. "There's always people getting hurt with the Twins, and they find a way to win, still. Albert is probably the best player in baseball, but if any team can get over that, it's probably them."

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